Johnson defies odds with rise to Futures Game
White Sox No. 2 prospect continues to shine despite offseason surgery
MINNEAPOLIS -- Not much gets to Micah Johnson.
That was clear watching him lead the Minor Leagues with 84 stolen bases last season, helping the Birmingham Barons win a Southern League championship even though he wasn't promoted until the last week of their season. It's even clearer this season, with the second baseman earning a spot in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game so soon after having surgery on his right elbow.
Johnson spent the offseason recovering from a procedure that dealt with nerve damage in a ligament, and the White Sox No. 2 prospect has hit .312 with a .371 on-base percentage and 16 stolen bases in 75 games between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. He came off the bench for the U.S. Team on Sunday at Target Field.
"This is a lot of fun," Johnson said before the annual prospect showcase. "It's special."
Johnson did not have an impactful afternoon in the U.S.'s 3-2 victory. He was 0-for-2 with a pair of groundouts, the first a roller that he almost beat out for an infield single.
Johnson downplays the significance of his offseason surgery, which was a repeat of one he had when he was playing at Indiana University. He said he expected to bounce back quickly.
"It was just nerve damage, not the ligament," Johnson said. "I didn't have to rehab, just had to heal and settle in. It's good. I've got a big scar but nothing to worry about. It's all good now."
Johnson's calling card is his speed and ability to reach base. He was bothered by a hamstring injury in April, which partly explains his decrease in stolen bases. He said that he's had to become smarter as a baserunner.
"Last year I never watched the game," Johnson said. "I'd be on base and just go and go. I didn't get to observe anything, learn the good times to go, the times not to go. That's what I'm doing this year. Practicing that, because when you get to big leagues you've got guys like [All-Star catchers] Yadier Molina and Salvador Perez that will throw you out. You can't go all the time. You have to be smart. That's what I'm working on.
"It's like a chess game. Now I have to adapt. It makes it fun for me."
Middle infielders are the strength of the White Sox's farm system. Carlos Sanchez, promoted to the big leagues on Sunday, and Marcus Semien have spent time with the South Siders this season. Tyler Saladino has been named to be the starting shortstop in the Triple-A All-Star Game.
Johnson, Sanchez and Semien have been more highly regarded as prospects, but the 24-year-old Saladino is having a break-out season. He's hitting .311 with nine homers, 42 RBIs and a 370 on-base percentage in 81 games.
"You can't ignore those numbers,'' Johnson said. "His defense is really good. It's hard to explain, but him at short and Sanchez at second is very special to watch. If I was the DH, I could watch that every day.''
Shortstop Alexei Ramirez will be at Target Field for Tuesday night's All-Star Game. But the White Sox are expected to field trade offers for him and second baseman Gordon Beckham.
Johnson and the others in Triple-A will make it easier for general manager Rick Hahn to pull the trigger if teams are motivated to add the White Sox veterans.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.